The Sims 4 Kits are bite-sized DLC packs that cost less than a latte with non-dairy milk from a hip café in Brooklyn, yet their release has sent ripples of frustration through The Sims community. The $4.99 Kits let players be more granular with their DLC selection and tailor their purchases to better suit their play style, but for many it's just one more thing they need to buy during a time where many may be struggling with financial difficulties thanks to COVID-19.
Not long after they were announced in early March, The Sims 4 Kits had the community raging about the cost of content. Prominent Simmers like lilsimsie (opens in new tab) and James Turner (opens in new tab) worried about the larger ramifications, pointing out how expensive it is to keep up with new content releases and questioning whether The Sims 4 would return to a Sims 3-style content release – which could bankrupt the average player. The Sims subreddit was littered with jokes about how EA continues to add more paid DLC in lieu of updating the base game with frequently requested items, and directives to download free custom content (or "CC") packs created by community members instead.
I did the math: in order to buy and utilize all of The Sims 4 content, including Expansion Packs, Stuff Packs, Game Packs, and Kits, you'd have to spend $800. While that pales in comparison to how much you'd need to spend to own all of The Sims 3 Store content (a Steam user estimates it's around $75,000 (opens in new tab)), it's still a harsh reminder of just how much The Sims' content costs and the clear barrier it presents for players looking to get more from the game. Almost seven years on from its initial release, the community is working overtime to keep The Sims 4 relevant and accessible, and prominent Simmers are starting to worry about the sustainability of this model.
SimGuruGrham on the future of The Sims 4: "There's way more that we can still do with this title"
The logic behind The Sims 4 Kits makes sense: as opposed to larger content drops like Expansion Packs and Stuff Packs, Kits are hyper-focused pieces of content that offer players a more ala carte option. For those who spend a lot of time with The Sims, focusing on a particular gameplay feature is common practice – that's why even the EA-produced Sims Spark'd competition featured teams of three players representing each of the popular play styles. The three Kits that are currently available in The Sims 4 cater to one of the three core aspects of play: building, Create-A-Sim, and gameplay. There's Country Kitchen, which offers retro kitchen design options, Throwback Fit Kit, which has several '90s fitness fashion looks, and Bust the Dust, which adds a cleaning feature that requires your Sims to actually vacuum up dust as it accumulates. EA believes that it's this granular focus on different aspects of role-play that has helped keep The Sims 4 fresh since its release in 2014.
"Over the past 6-plus years, we’ve seen that Simmers play the game in very different ways – some of them design incredible architecture, some want to get in and create fun stories, while others spend their time making amazing characters," says Dave Miotke, producer at EA and Maxis for over a decade . "Kits provide us with the opportunity to create more varied content more frequently, and this is just the beginning."
For many Sims 4 players, what Miotke is saying here is right on the money. As Doctor Ashley (opens in new tab) tells me, a prominent Simmer and competitor on EA's The Sims Spark'd, the Kits can help players focus on the elements of play that they enjoy and get more out of their time with the game. "Whenever I download a new pack, I always go straight to the furniture items and don't look at anything else," she tells me, adding, "if you’re primarily a builder like me, you can now purchase a building kit without feeling like you’re wasting money paying for CAS [Create-A-Sim] or gameplay features you won’t use."
The problem with Kits for many Sims 4 players isn't anything to do with the quality of the content, but rather the cost of it. That's a difficult balancing act for EA to execute, one that some in the community believe the publisher is struggling to manage. "You can choose whichever you want without having to buy a whole pack, and have all this clutter that you don't technically want. And I like that aspect, where it's like a niche type of thing," says SpringSims (opens in new tab), who also competed on The Sims Spark'd. "But they're $5 each, and I slowly evaluated them over time thinking, are these really worth $5?"
The cost of content
While Kits offer more granular content at an even lower price point than Stuff Packs, most Simmers don't feel like the price tag accurately represents their value. "I don't think they're all worth $5," SpringSims insists. "I think they definitely need to fix the price point. Maybe make it $3 or I don't know, make it a bundle, because bundles definitely help when it comes to pricing. The pricing just needs to be fixed overall." Doctor Ashley, who does believe that the Kits offering build and buy items are worth the $5, points out that it's harder to quantify the value-added for gameplay Kits like Bust the Dust. "I'm interested to see what other gameplay Kits get released and the value-added will most likely come down to personal preference," she says.
So, a handful of different content types offered at varying costs isn't working for most Simmers. But what's the alternative? The Sims 3 had a large store that offered hundreds of items that you could buy in bundles or individually with SimPoints – but the value of these items was criminally low for their cost. As lilsimsie points in her Kits reaction video (opens in new tab), a single dress could cost you 75 SimPoints, which is equivalent to about $0.75. A $19 Homecoming bundle in The Sims 3 store offered up a handful of clothing options, with no build items or gameplay changes. Like many in The Sims community, lilsimsie worries that Kits could eventually lead to The Sims 4's content options reflecting the Sims 3 offering, but Miotke is quick to squash that idea: "We have no intention of bringing back The Sims 3 microtransactions."
This admission indicates that Maxis has learned from past mistakes when it comes to supporting The Sims, but that isn't to say that there aren't still hurdles the studio needs to overcome. As welcome as the news is that there won't be a Sims 4 store with enough items in it to buy you a Benz, it's still going to be expensive to keep up with the evolving Sims 4 experience. "People say 'I can't afford an Expansion Pack or a Game Pack or a Stuff Pack' and there are times when that's only $10," SpringSims says. "I had to take a step back and realize that's $10 for spending that they could spend on something else that's more valuable. I think it's hard because we're in a pandemic, and people are still struggling, and people were still suffering before."
Thankfully, there are other ways to continue expanding the base Sims 4 experience, even for those that find the cost of additional content prohibitive. The Sims community regularly delivers updates to players in the form of custom content, which can be downloaded and utilized for free. While EA shows no signs of slowing down the release of premium content packs, it's clear that Simmers will continue what they have been doing for years: flexing their creativity and solving The Sims 4's problems themselves.
The Sims 4 and its community are entwined in a way that's rather unique in the video game industry. Not only do Simmers create custom content to share with others freely when the offering from EA is found to be lacking (like Xmiramira's Melanin Pack (opens in new tab), which Black Simmers used for years before the long-overdue December 2020 skin tone update), but lately EA has relied increasingly on its community to dictate future content and even design some of it themselves.
There's been an impressive uptick in EA releasing free updates for The Sims 4 to address issues raised by community members: the new Sentiments feature that released for free alongside October 2020's Snowy Escape Expansion Pack, the bunk beds that just dropped in the latest March update, and the recent dedication to updating skin tones and Black hairstyles. While Doctor Ashley believes that releases like the 21st birthday free base game update – which includes 21 objects, all designed by members of the community is a "step in the right direction", it's clear that there's still work to be done here. With the community constantly working to deliver new content to the game for free, it's easy to understand why many may believe that EA's recent spate of free releases is too little, too late.
Despite how Simmers may feel, EA clearly wants the community to know that it's listening to feedback and working hard to keep The Sims 4 relevant, especially with The Sims 5 currently existing as little more than a distant dream. "Enhancing our players’ experience of The Sims 4 is incredibly important to us and we do that in different ways including providing free content as often as we can. We have learned so much since the game first released. We’re able to support it as a live service game and have been releasing free content along the way," says Miotke.
But where EA can't or won't make adjustments, the community will always rise to the occasion, filling in gaps intentionally or unintentionally left by the developer. "Without CC-ers, the Sims would not exist after The Sims 3," SpringSims declares, speaking to the power of community content like the Melanin Packs from Xmiramira. Those packs filled a diversity gap EA left wide open for years and were so popular for players looking for better representation in The Sims that EA credits her for their belated skin tone update. Sometimes, the Sims community is better at roadmapping than the Sims devs.
Ultimately, EA seems willing to regularly release free updates that improve upon the base game (like platforms, Sentiments, and skin tones) and occasionally ones that offer free in-game items (like the 21st Birthday Pack). However, when it comes to items used to enhance the gameplay experience, like large drops of build and CAS items, you'll need to have a credit card handy. Despite this, while it seems like the cost of content in The Sims 4 will remain staggeringly high, it's clear that the Sims community will always find ways to circumvent that cost as it works to continuously provide options for players in places where EA isn't. As SpringSims says with a knowing smile, "custom content is definitely the route to go if you can't really afford a Pack."
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